I recently read Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw ‘s column on The New York Times. In college, his textbooks helped me understand economics much better. His well-written textbooks are read by many students in Korea.
His recent column was titled “When the Scientist Is Also a Philosopher.” I read it because I liked the title. Among the points he makes: Economists are, by design, philosophers in that their recommendations are essentially based on a belief/value system. I agree completely. Another one of his points: “…when people have voluntarily agreed upon an economic arrangement to their mutual benefit, that arrangement should be respected.” He further opines on the minimum wage and the (American) Affordable Care Act:
“As I see it, the minimum wage and the Affordable Care Act are cases in point. Noble as they are in aspiration, they fail the do-no-harm test. An increase in the minimum wage would disrupt some deals that workers and employers have made voluntarily. The Affordable Care Act has disrupted many insurance arrangements that were acceptable to both the insurance company and the insured; these policies were canceled because they deviated from lawmakers’ notion of the ideal.”
I do not know much about what’s going on in America. Nor am I involved. But, I would like to offer maybe a (possible) retort to this type of logic. I question the logic.
I question: “What exactly is voluntary?” Consider these two stories:
1) A few years ago, there was much debate about the decision in France to ban the burqa in public places. One could argue that such women wore the burqa freely/voluntarily. On the other hand, some supported the ban saying: “…the veil represents a wider culture; a tribal, parochial, patriarchal culture that winds up actually taking more choices away…” (Irshad Manji).
2) In Korea, there has been much frustration/anger among some job seekers (interviewees) that (job) interviewers are often rude and ask inappropriate questions that may be too personal. For instance, “Why aren’t you married??” “Why don’t you have kids yet??” But, the interviewees almost always end up answering such questions. They are, in fact, giving up such information freely and voluntarily. So, are such questions automatically desirable/acceptable?
In society, some groups wield enormous influence. Other groups don’t. Some groups are very desperate.
I do admit there is a fine line between paternalism and “setting things right.”
Still, “Well, it was voluntary. So, that’s the end of that…”
What are your thoughts?